A couple of years ago I switched sports from boxing to powerlifting. I last fought at state titles at 78kg in april 2012 took a month break and started lifting weights in November, having never touched a barbell before in my life. About 6 months later I weighed 92kg and had my first raw powerlifting meet going 155kg/120kg/200kg for a 475kg total just following a loosely based western style linear periodization, sets of 10, 8, 5 then 3 pretty much for a month in each rep protocol and didn’t hit any singles until the meet.
Pittance compared to some guys meets but I was happy to easily achieve those numbers in 5-6 months. After that I ran a few cycles of sheiko, 29, 37, 37 to be exact. Took a week off and retested. I went 175/140/220 in the gym at 90kg whih I was pretty stoked about, however I joined the army shortly after and have been away until the start of this year with no access to a barbell or anything that resembles regular training in regards to lifting weights.
Work presents unique challenges in that we are constantly out field or on exercise, we get little (if any) sleep, 5 or 6 hours is a good night, out field the usual is 3 or 4. Stomp around with packs for hours that consistently weigh 50kg or more and don’t even get me started on the food. I am plagued by plantar fasciitis and shin splints and also have prolapsed L4-L5 disc and a partially torn levator scapulae in my neck that wont heal because of carrying packs.
PT in the army is not just gay, but it is also counter productive, there is no logical progression or time for recovery. Every exercise is taken till failure and (in my opinion) does nothing but fatigue people and risk injuries and niggles caused by fatigue and muscular imbalance. Its either long distance runs or body weight circuits haphazardly put together by some burpee queen whose idea of strength training is jumping lunges and tyre flips for hundreds of meters with tyres so small I thought they were off a Hyundai excel.
Talk about not only being a waste of time but putting already weak dudes in a position of repeated lumbar flexion with offset loading for hundreds of meters is just plain dangerous. Its no wonder so many guy do their backs in the infantry.
The only sessions I enjoy are our pool sessions, however despite being in an amphibious unit we barely touch the water and when we do its 40 minutes of… yes you guessed it… Burpees, half heaves (because no one has enough back to crank them out legit for any respectable amount of reps), jumping lunges followed by laps in the pool so slow after fatigue from all the fully sick calisthenics kings shit we did just prior that the laps don’t even provide the slightest aerobic benefit. In fact it tends just to lead to worn out lats and external rotators of the arms and more shoulder impingement. Go figure.
Anyway I digress. Its safe to say that I DONT work in an environment that nurtures or encourages the desire to be strong. Im not so concerned about being super jacked. That definitely isn’t conducive to my line of work, however strength is a quality that I hold dear and when I am barely an intermediate level lifter but I am still one of the strongest guys in my battalion I feel disappointed in the army for letting its front line guys and gals fall by the wayside in terms of general physical badassery.
So back to the program. My time in the gym is precious, so I need to make it count as best I can. My first session back I hit some squats, some bench and a few pulls just to see where I was at. Everything was just about back to square one. It was hard to swallow. Over a year as a recruit in training meant I had withered away and my previous progress was all but gone.
So this is what I did. I planned 3 rotating sessions. There would be some type of squat, press and pull. Each session would emphasise however more on one of this lifts. My squat is by far my worst lift, especially since I hurt my back I have lost tremendous amounts of glute strength and am constantly battling a knee cave problem that rears its ugly head everytime I start to get back up in weight. So it takes priority, bench is the next worse as I have long ass arms and missed out on years of party pump as a teenager in place of knocking people out. Due to my build (tall and lean) my deadlift grew just by looking at a bar. The very first time I tried to deadlift I pulled a rounded back 150kg at 75kg of bodyweight. 8 months later I was pulling 200kg for triples with perfect form. It just happened for me, where as squat and bench didn’t.
So the template looked a little something like this;
Light squat assistance exercises x2
SLDL or RDL
Light Bench assistance exercises x2
Mil press or push press
Light deadlift assistance exercises x2
Every session had 1 type of rowing movement
Next I wanted to roll with a 531 loading scheme. However the original template, while excellent was too conservative for my liking and as I never quite knew when I was going to be able to train I wanted to take the opportunity to smash each lift as hard as I could when I have the chance. So I dug up my copy of beyond 531 and read up about spinal tap. It was perfect, it allowed my to run a full cycle for each lift in one training session getting exposure to different sets and reps and even hit some heavy singles, doubles or triples when I felt I could handle it.
The only downside was that sometime I would get a good run of training, often over a weekend where I would end up doing back to back sessions fri night, sat morning and sunday arvo. So I couldn’t just run a full 531 cycle EVERY time I trained. That would be stupid. So I used spinal tap protocol for the lift on the day it was emphasised and took the opportunity to still practice the other lifts through similar movement patterns. Like I said training time is precious so I didn’t want to spend hours doing different accessory exercises, everything I did had to either BE the movements or at least closely mimic the movements. This worked like a treat.
My first week of training looked like this:
Day 1 (squat emphasis)
Competition stance squat (This is a hybrid high bar squat with quite a wide stance. I feel natural squatting Olympic style however for meets I wide my stance significantly so limit how much I sink into a squat for competition purposes. I am also over 6ft So it helps shorten the ROM and gets my long ass legs out of the way.) These are done for spinal tap sets and reps however for these I did the 3x3 first, then 3 singles to flirt with heavier weights again then I backed off to the do the 3x5 as paused reps to work on technique)
Secondary Bench was close grip 5x5 at 75% of TM practicing set up and strict pauses
Deficit deadlifts 3x5 at 75% of TM again just practicing on technique and position
1x8 Pendlay row, just one top set working up in sets of 8
2x20 sets of leg extension and calf raises to get some blood flow in the joints
Day 2 (Bench emphasis)
Competition grip bench press - spinal tap sets and reps
Db incline bench 4x8, these were the only accessory movements I used, just feel the help somewhat. Not really in terms of numbers but my bench quality just improves when I do db work regularly
Close stance ATG squats 3x5 a 75% of TM - These were just for practice, taking the movement through full ROM and assisting recovery from the first sessions epic squat portion.
3x5-8 RDLs or SLDL - Like the Olympic squats these are done on the lighter side, I am typically a quad dominant squatter so I make it habit to get some hamstring work in as much as possible
2 sets of 20 for 2 external rotation or elbow flexion/extension movements, eg face pulls, curls, banded tricep extensions or body weight dips
Day 3 (deadlift emphasis)
This was typically the last day of the week. And as I enjoy deadlifts I usually put it all on the table on this day.
- Deadlift - spinal tap sets and reps
- Front squat 1x5 or 1x3 or 3 heavy singles - balls to the wall
- Push press normal 531 sets and reps
- Bulgarian split squats and Db rows 3x8-12 each OR work up to one heavy set of 6 squats and 20 rows
- 2x20 Light hamstring curls and back extensions or weighted hip extensions
Using this method I have rebuilt my back after injury, and even against the challenges at work I have made fantastic progress since the first week of February this year till now.
Squat: struggling to squat 90 for 10 to 140 for 10 and 160 for easy singles
Bench: bench 90 for 5 to 100 for 10 and 135 for easy singles
Deadlift: a hard 140x5 to 1703x5 from a deficit and 180x5 with no belt easy
In a way being held back by work and lack of recovery and sleep and food has made me more determined to rebuild my strength and even smash old PRs. All my old PRs are with a belt which I now refuse to wear as I hurt my back when a friends lever belt that I borrowed for a deadlift session wasn’t adjusted properly and popped open halfway through a heavy deadlift nearly blowing my L5 out of my ass and across the room right before I left for the army. Figured I wont be competing again until next year so wont need one for a while anyway so will continue to build strength without one.
Im sure not everyone would agree that how I have been training is optimal, safe or smart. But I used options and protocols detailed in Beyond 531 to make it work for me and my situation. Im not about to do less because that’s the sensible option because that wont work for me. Im not yet strong enough to take it easy. There is new progress to be make and I intend to continue training like this only make small adjustments as required when things slow down. Which I am sure they will, as a natural lifter, with fuck all sleep, food and bulk physical stress coming my way from external factors there will come a time where I will cease to make progress without eliminating one or more of those factors.
But I just wanted to share this with everyone as not many of us (if any) have the gift of being able to train how we like, undisturbed and in perfect circumstances. I read a lot on blogs and articles to get 8-10 hours of sleep, eat X amount of protein in 5 or 6 meals a day and don’t do anything else because it will impede your recovery. Well I eat 2 meals a day, 3 if I try, I get half the amount of protein I need, and even when we aren’t out field I only sleep 6 hours a night. 7 MAX, and still have to participate in unit PT, long heavy pack marches each week and then get smash with 12-18 hour patrols with barely a muesli bar and chocolate candy to keep me going. While my numbers are amazing, I haven’t let the external stresses get me down and stop me from exercising my god given right to be a fucking meat head. I believe me when I say that I am no genetic anomaly, nor do I train smart. But I still train and get the work done.
I watched the other day on the interwebs as a female powerlifter who lost her leg squats 120 something pounds on one leg. The next clip was a dude who totalled 1000lbs with 1 arm. After that I was on a motivation video tangent and saw a girl, who has multiple sclerosis because one of the fastest 5000m junior track athletes in the US. Things like that aren’t just a novelty, they serve to fuel a fire in people like me who have all my limbs (at least at the moment) and really have no excuse to not be in the gym working hard when family and work commitments have been temporarily satisfied.
Fuck yeah, just writing this makes me want to go squat!